Monday, March 10, 2008

Dump-ta-dump-dump


Snowed In,
Arthur Fitzwilliam Tait,
oil on canvas, 1877.

Baaah.

Any intimations of Spring are premature.

There's another Everest at the end of my driveway and I was yeti all weekend.

Appropriate that Charles posted about info dumps -- nothing impedes the free flow of a story more than waddling drifts of information and a two-three foot snowplow rim of exposition.

In comments, Steve made the observation that when snowing the reader one should limit the depth of precipitation to 110 words at any one time -- which I thought was a neat guide to reader tolerance.

And Josephine defined several types of info dump: one the As-You-Know-Bob heavy sledding style, another the Up-Hill-Both-Ways weather geek who recounts all the great storms of the past century with appropriate statistics, ie. shows off his research hoping to impress you with his ( marginally relevant) knowledge, and the third being blocks recounting the personal history/backstory of each major player.

I want to hit those types with a shovel upside the head.

At present, the type of info dump that irritates me most is the pause to present in excessive detail a physical description of each character as they are introduced.

Certainly, it's tempting to provide the reader with all necessary information, but a few inches at a time is really enough.

Other types of info dump that annoy you?

46 comments:

StarvingWriteNow said...

Bernita, you've done it again. I was shoveling out the new place yesterday afternoon (because although my movers are supermen, capable of leaping high drifts in a single bound, my furniture is definitely not) and today I read this... what great thoughts you have. That snowbank in the front of my driveway was for sure an info-dump from on high!

Bernita said...

So glad you have a place of your own, Write Now.
We moved in the middle of a snowstorm once!

Angie said...

Irrelevant travelogues, where the characters blather on and on and on about the land and villages and scenery and ruins and whatever all else, while travelling through it, despite the fact that none of the actual story (front or back) takes place there and they aren't even stopping. [headdesk] That's a sure sign of a writer who did a truckload of research and is bound and determined that none of it will be wasted. :P

Angie

Bernita said...

"on and on and on about the land and villages and scenery and ruins and whatever all else, while travelling through it, despite the fact that none of the actual story (front or back) takes place there and they aren't even stopping."

Good one, Angie!

writtenwyrdd said...

All of those types of info dump can be terribly annoying. The info dump that bugs me the most is the As You Know Bob speech, because that's the clunkiest method IMO.

That said, I honestly think you can get away with info dumps occasionally. But they have to be the right kind of info dump, in the right place, at the right time. The reader tolerance can vary, of course.

writtenwyrdd

writtenwyrdd said...

BTw, we missed out on the inch of ice (1/10th perhaps instead) but we got a pile of sleet that froze about 3" thick. Almost as bad as ice.

Bernita said...

And just as hard and heavy to shovel, Written.

BernardL said...

The scenery info dump stops me cold; but you really hit my most annoying one with the detailed character description. I have read intricate character info dumps, where by the time they were over, I'd forgotten the plot. :)

SzélsőFa said...

I agree that all your typse can repel the reader.
But still, there are writers who can puu it off.

I recall having read a book that was basically about two characters, their individual development and finally, a conflict between the two.
It was all told from the POV of one of the characters.
I recall a description of a room, with almost ALL of the furniture within, coming into details as to the shade of blue a certain desk was painted and how the paint was coming off (or not) - a thousand lines of description like your monologue here, my dear, yet it was interesting and not boring at all.
Why?
I don't know.

Jaye Wells said...

Much to my editor's chagrin, I do not like a lot of internalization in first person. Some is necessary of course, but I feel far too many authors rely on internal monologues about the character's feelings. Feelings schmeelings. Show me the character arc, don't tell me about it.

Bernita said...

I don't mind scenery if it's pertinent, Bernard, to set atmosphere or contrast - as long as it doesn't go "on and on and on" as Angie said.
I blame some of those dumps on imperfectly perceived/understood creative writing exercises.

A case of deliberate symbolic significance, Szelsofa?

Jaye, I agree.Am also guilty.
If I read once more "my heart pounded in my chest," "panic tightened my throat," I will barf.
I like to read a person's thoughts -- from their thoughts/actions I will deduce their feelings.

sex scenes at starbucks said...

I'm reading Wheel of Time right now, just started the first book. And, you know, it's trope. All trope. (For the record, I love me some trope.) However, we really don't need to have all the "drop-in narrative" about the villagers and the boy's friends and how the tavern wife's a reliable person to feed hungry teenagers and that the peddler loves an audience. Show don't tell, SHEESH! The sad part is, I could cross out the telling with a sharpie and still totally get the story. Right now, though, I feel like I'm wading...

Bernita said...

Yep, SS.
Those wheels grind exceedingly fine.
There's a fair amount of fat to wade through, even though I think the story is well worth it.

writtenwyrdd said...

I didn't mind the fat, trowled on description in the Wheel of Tmie books, myself. I like that in fantasy books much of the time. A m atter of personal preference I suppose.

Robyn said...

You've touched on my fatal flaw. I find that I dump in facts that are necessary to my understanding of the character and the world, but often aren't necessary for the reader. I have to constantly weed. Not a case of show, don't tell, but don't tell everything you know.

Angie said...

I don't mind description if it's worked organically into the story, and if there's a reason for it. With fantasy, SF, historicals, travel stories, that sort of thing, giving the reader a sense of setting is an important part of the book, and something worth spending some verbage on. Some ways of doing it are better than others, though, and a dozen lines of data-dump is rarely the best way.

Even something like having the POV character, who's never been here before, looking around and noting and responding to the setting can work just fine for me. That sort of paragraph can not only show the reader what's in the immediate vicinity, but also give information about that character based on what they notice and how they describe it -- a little kid, a software geek and an antiques dealer will probably all describe the same room very differently. The reader can get info on the character's home at the same time, if they're noting differences while they look around, which is a natural thing to do. And they can be looking for things or people or landscape features which might help or hinder their quest for whatever their goal is in the story, which can give the reader some clues about how they intend to overcome whatever the obstacle is.

There you go -- lots of useful info in a setting description. Setting is only annoying if it's not doing anything but sit there.

Angie

Josephine Damian said...

Bernita: thanks for the shout out out!

*note to self - delete "my heart pounded in my chest," and "panic tightened my throat," from WIP lest Bernita barfs*

I see descriptions (more like lists) of items in rooms - objects that have some dramatic significance, but this is not made clear or even hinted at, because they are merely listed by the writer and are not the dramatic focus and interest by/to the character.

raine said...

I guess you could call it the "Freeze-Action Flashback".

The hero/heroine is in the middle of doing whatever it is they do, when suddenly they hear a footfall/gun cocked/knife cutting through the air. They quickly turn to find...

Bob, the villain--and we're inundated with descriptions of his smile, what he's wearing, how they met, what Bob's traumatic adolescence was like, how his parents never understood him, the reason for his grudge against our protagonist, etc...
And five or six pages later the action may resume where it left off.
Maybe.
Love the title, btw, lol.

ChristineEldin said...

I'm late to this.
What everyone else said, especially Angie in the first post. where the characters blather on and on and on about the land and villages and scenery and ruins and whatever all else, while travelling through it, despite the fact that none of the actual story (front or back) takes place there LOL!!!

Dave F. said...

EE's book for March - Perfect Circle has a info dump in Chapter 3 at the most exciting scene. And it works so well. IT's a good example of how the backstory can be as exciting as (well, I hate to be a spoiler) the death of a major character in flames and guns and good stuff.

I have to weed extra stuff constantly. I over write ad over-explain everything. I repeat stuff using different language and then have to decide which words are better. It's constant editing down.

The biggest turn-off for me is the "hi, I'm the character and I'm five-foot six, muscles of adonis, hair like madonna, tits worthy or Reubenesque women, legs so long you need ladders, etc... ANd I live on a farm, not just an ordinary farm, but a horse farm. We grow horsies. We grow them from foals to glue-factory nags. etc...

About that time, my eyeballs want to throttle my brain.

Charles Gramlich said...

I was jus talking to someone about introducing characters and description. I don't want every detail certainly, but I do like to have at least a few word sketch that sort of orients me to a character.

SzélsőFa said...

I tend to think that the description of furniture and the walls of the room and of decoration in general all added something to the atmosphere of the whole story.
It described a world that was saying goodbye, and so was the paint fading away...and so on.

Gabriele C. said...

I just was tempted to throw a book against the wall, because the dialogue was constantly interrupted by paragraphs of backstory and historical explanation. And that from an experienced writer.

Bernita said...

One thing, Written, some of those scenes and people are revisited in (much) later books of the series and so to a degree the descriptions are pertinent.

Robyn, I often have to go back in revision and reposition information, put it in dialogue, whatever, to get rid of dumps.

Understood, Angie. Thank you.

Josephine,I very much appreciated your comments on info dump.
Doubt you'd ever be guilty of those expressions.

Exactly, Raine, and a very good name and good description of it.

Has to have a point and purpose, Chris.

"About that time, my eyeballs want to throttle my brain."
Dave, I love that!

Charles, the high points!
Usually we don't notice every last living detail about a person on first glance, we focus on a few major things, and add the other details as we note them during a conversation or have the leisure to observe.
Too often, complete descriptions read like authorial intrusions.

Does sound like symbolic significance, Szelsofa, and therefor fulfilled a purpose.

Gabriele, as Charles said on his blog - if he wants to be educated he'll read non-fiction.
We like to pick up tidbits of information but not have them crammed down our throats.

Billy said...

Well put, Bernita. Adding description as soon as a character is introduced is so ridiculously methodical and is tantamount to painting by the numbers.

Bernita said...

"ridiculously methodical "
Excellent word for it, Billy.
Thank you.

writtenwyrdd said...

After a morning's consideration, here's the info dump I hate: The mirror look that gives us the pov character's description. I really hate that tactic.

Bernita said...

Me too, Written.
With a passion.

Scott from Oregon said...

One of the reasons I have trouble with many a female writer. The descriptions of how things hang from the shoulder and the rest, tend to make me want to walk away.

On the other side, some of the men love their historical facts a bit too much...

If you assume that just about every book ever written has descriptions about the looks of their characters and places, you can't help but realize that you are venturing into cliche-ville by way of canoe on a raging river when you start in on describing anything...

On the other hand, you are limited by words to create your story, and you have to give the reader something to go on in order to have them imagine the story that you want them to.

I am not making much sense so I'll go away now. Interesting topic though.

Ello said...

As you know bob's are my biggest pet peeves!

Bernita said...

I keep my armies up my sleevies, Scott.
I don't care to judge writers by their gender.
And no one is advocating the entire removal of description of either character or scenery.

Ello, couldn't they at least divulge to someone who doesn't know?

spyscribbler said...

I heard our blizzard was going up to Canada. I'm sorry. :-( I have renewed respect for your shoveling fortitude.

Info dumps are worse than snow dumps. I like the analogy!

Bernita said...

More stubborness than fortitude, Natasha.

They are both difficult to wade through.

December/Stacia said...

The describing-the-characters one bugs me the most, I think, especially when it comes with cocktail-party tidbits about personality.

Anonymous said...

I tend to be pretty short and snappy in my writing because I lose patience with myself really fast.

Info dumps are like shaggy dog stories - often too little reward for too much work. Sometimes, though, descriptive technique is so fine that one simply enjoys the reading, no matter where the action went. Some byways are just worth it.

Asa

Bernita said...

The cliche effect, December.

As long as the detours lead back to the main road, Asa.

Demon Hunter said...

Thanks for sharing this, Bernita. I try to avoid info. dumps and I had to redo a few things in my novel that contributed to this. :*)

Bernita said...

It's the finished product that counts, my Demon, not what we did in our drafts.

bookfraud said...

what info dumps bother me the most? where to start...

excess descriptions of weather, scenery (flora and fauna in particular), characters' clothing, their faces, the linear description of the processes for every individual thought, and especially all the research the writer's done about their subject (the history of glove-making, steamship trade routes, the family's genealogy since the fourth century b.c.).

i could list 10 more, but those are the biggest.

Bernita said...

Book, I like Steve's Law of of 110 words per item.

The Anti-Wife said...

Any descriptions that slow down or halt the progress of the story irritate me.

Bernita said...

Potholes in the road suggest poor maintenance, AW!

kmfrontain said...

One of the dumps that annoy me the most, because authors who do it don't seem to recognize it as a dump, is when pages and pages of how the character feels and thinks is going on rather than plot, action, sensations based on five senses. The entire story often takes place inside the character's head rather than outside it. I just can't get into stories written like that.

Bernita said...

Karen, you don't know how good it makes me feel to read that.
Have often thought I am too meager about what the character "feels."

kmfrontain said...

I think you get just the right amount of character motivation in you writing. I've always felt engaged and I've "sensed" a lot of motivation through the things your characters focus on/pay attention to.

Bernita said...

Thank you, Karen.
~beams~